Helen McMurtrie talks about Glen Innes police shooting

FAMILY SUPPORT: Senior Constable Helen McMurtrie with her partner, Garry Huard, who had to travel five hours to the Gold Coast following the shooting last month.

FAMILY SUPPORT: Senior Constable Helen McMurtrie with her partner, Garry Huard, who had to travel five hours to the Gold Coast following the shooting last month.

Senior Constable Helen McMurtrie has somehow kept her sense of humour.

There wasn’t room on the rescue helicopter for partner Garry Huard. So the ex-cop had to drive the five hours to the Gold Coast. Only, it should have taken a little longer than that.

“He got a speeding ticket on the way,” she said.

“That’s going to be an interesting letter to the Queensland infringement bureau isn’t it! ‘Can you please not give me a ticket because of this’?”

Barrelling down the dark highway with four kids in the back to a partner in intensive care, he didn't even notice.

“He had to drive for five hours - could you imagine how horrific that would have been for him?”

Aside from a raspy voice and a neck brace she’s obliged to wear for the next three and a bit weeks, you’d have no idea the bubbly, generous cop had been shot in the neck just over three weeks ago. 

The wounded Glen Innes police officer spoke to the Glen Innes Examiner for the first time since the shooting, at her property outside town on Tuesday.  

Physically her recovery is spectacular and she is well aware of how lucky she has been. But Helen McMurtrie’s biggest quandary right now is: can she ever return to the job she loves but which cost so much?

Police were called to a house on Church Street late on Friday January 18 to a scene of horrific domestic violence. Lesley Newman had called the police after being suddenly attacked by husband Eric.

He was almost totally unknown to police and had no substantial record, hadn’t been drinking heavily and had been a devoted husband - right up to the point where he strangled his wife.

A trio of police tried to calm Eric, but instead of backing down he fired two bullets. The first hit officers McMurtrie and Sergeant Mark Johnston, the second took his own life. 

Colleagues: Samantha Petty, left, with injured officers Sergeant Mark Johnston and Senior Constable Helen McMurtrie. Photos: Glen Innes Examiner, Adam Marshall

Colleagues: Samantha Petty, left, with injured officers Sergeant Mark Johnston and Senior Constable Helen McMurtrie. Photos: Glen Innes Examiner, Adam Marshall

He called out his wife’s name as he pulled the trigger for the last time. Lesley watched from a car.

The third police officer, probationary constable Sam Petty, was in her first weeks on the job. She dragged the wounded officers to safety.

A pair of 20-something civilians ran to her aid; Anthony Willman and Bryce Elliott put pressure on Helen McMurtrie’s wounds.

"I remember looking up and all I could see I think was a mullet," said Senior Constable McMurtrie.

“At that stage no one knew what had happened to Mr Newman - no one knew if he was still out there. They risked their lives.”

Then ambulances, helicopters, the Gold Coast. A week of hospital, tests, potential surgery. Hiding stuff from her four kids until they were ready. Her dad seeing his daughter on the front page of the Sydney dailies in a McDonalds before dawn on the way to her side from Wollongong, where he is a Church of Christ minister.

She returned to Glen Innes on Sunday January 27.

"It was fantastic to be in my own house in my community with my family,

"But it was also just coming back to the scene of the crime - I guess you could say - (it) was difficult.

"There was that underlying, lingering, thing there - coming back to that incident refreshes your memory.

"(But) the positives are outweighing the negatives."

The family has received too many flowers, too many text messages and phone calls. Visits to the supermarket take half an hour with slaps on the back. Strangers walk up to the family and tell them how great it is they’ve returned. Possibly you might expect support from colleagues, friends, community members. The most bizarre and touching part - generous and even compassionate treatment from criminals.

“As a police officer, you have to do some harsh things to people. But even those people, the ones I've had to deal with professionally have been supportive as well.

“It’s amazing. It’s a bit bizarre.”

It’s a testament to the empathy of Senior Constable McMurtrie, who has spent most of her career since graduation in 2002 in rural police stations like Glen Innes and Broken Hill. 

But can she keep doing what she’s been doing after an incident so awful?

“I absolutely love my job, it’s all I’ve ever really wanted to be, which is probably a bit corny, a lot of people say that.

“I was not ready to leave. This is a decision or a choice that has been thrown at me due to the actions of someone else. That’s the hard decision, or the choice that has been thrown at me now. What if I cannot do the job that I love and want to do until retirement? What if I can’t do that now?

Overwhelmed: Garry Huard with partner, Senior Constable Helen McMurtrie. Photo: Supplied

Overwhelmed: Garry Huard with partner, Senior Constable Helen McMurtrie. Photo: Supplied

“And I just can’t answer that. It’s not just the job, it’s the friends. If I have to leave this job I’m going to lose those as well.”

And yet she bares no ill will towards the man who did it, in fact, she worries that small-town rumour is hurting his wife. She cannot stop thanking people - ambos, colleagues, friends, strangers. She’s even helping at an event to raise money for the Westpac rescue helicopter, while on sick leave. And she can’t stop telling jokes.

Luke Warburton was her first training officer out of the academy in 2002. He was himself shot and very badly injured while trying to restrain a man at Nepean Hospital in 2016. He’s been in contact.

"I know I said say as I say and do as I do,” he said to her.

“But you've taken it a little far.”

She’s had calls from the officers she trained. Don’t worry, she told them -  "the curse is broken”.

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